How having a growth mindset changed my CELTA experience

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

In 2006, Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology from Stanford University published her study on growth mindsets.  In simple terms, her theory divided people into two categories: people with  fixed mindsets and people with growth mindsets


Fixed mindset people believe you are born with talent and intelligence and that these qualities are fixed, and unchangeable. They are interested in validating their smartness by effortlessly getting the right answers. Challenges are risky as they may lead to making mistakes in front of others. They believe that tests measure how smart you are and can be a predictor of your success in the future. They want to be recognized for their abilities and talents – effort is for those who have neither.


Growth mindset people, on the other hand, believe that intelligence can be developed and strengthened by effort, dedication and hard work. They believe they can become smarter, so they treat mistakes as learning opportunities.  The goal of growth mindset people is not immediate perfection but rather embracing challenges, figuring things out and making progress.  They believe that if you apply yourself to the task at hand, no one can predict your future potential. They are focused on the process -  “becoming” rather than “being” is the goal.


Just like with learning styles, we are not either/or, but rather a mixture of both mindsets.  We may display a growth mindset while learning to drive but a fixed mindset when it comes to painting.  The goal of Dweck’s study was not to judge and sort people into two categories but rather to make us conscious of the mindsets at play and how profoundly they affect our learning process.   


My volunteer work in Congo teaching the kids

Recently, I decided to challenge myself and take a huge risk.  After years of successful teaching and a cupboard full of “World’s Greatest Teacher'' mugs from happy students and parents, I decided to see if I could make myself better by taking a course to get my Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, or''CELTA”. When you enrol for the intense, four week CELTA course, you have a pretty good idea what to expect.  Your interviewer makes it clear that there will be a whole lot of reading, writing, practical online teaching of real students, studying grammar and methodology - in short - a whole lot of hard work involved.  And then you begin…  


You meet people from all walks of life on the CELTA course.  Some are trying to become teachers, some are changing careers, and others are already educators looking for a way to improve their craft.  One thing is certain, no matter where you fall on that scale, having a growth mindset is crucial to getting the most out of the course and being successful. 


CELTA trainers do a great job helping trainees develop growth mindsets.  They facilitate the creation of a tight community by being personable and invested in every student.  They also make two things clear from the very beginning - the learning (not grades) is the focus and the hands-on teaching is expected to be collaborative. Prioritizing the learning process over grades helps the trainees focus on the value of learning.  Students often base self-perceptions of worth and skills on grades received.  Playing down the importance of grades helps promote mutual support and collaboration rather than competitive and individualistic work.  Collaborative work fosters a sense of responsibility and motivates trainees.  And when the group does well, it is easier to see the connection between effort and success.  Thanks to the trainers, the growth mindset environment is set up from the very start.

Teaching adults English in Congo

Trainees have their own, active part to play.  When on the CELTA course, they are developing new skills in front of students, peers and instructors.  Doing so is challenging and requires a substantial degree of vulnerability.  You can’t measure your worth by how “smart” you already are and how well your lesson went.  Neither should you compare yourself to your peers.  Instead, trainees  are asked to analyze what went well and what could be done better next time.  How you deal with a challenge reveals a lot about your mindset.  Are you avoiding challenges for the fear of looking incompetent in front of others?  Or are you ready to embrace them, try virtually anything and see what happens?


Perceiving mistakes as learning opportunities is another characteristic of a growth mindset, so important for the course.  Being comfortable with giving and receiving constructive criticism is a must.  That means admitting your mistakes and perceiving them as positive; discussing them openly and learning from them.  After each teaching practice trainees receive insightful feedback from their instructor.  They are also asked to give positive and negative feedback to their peers.  This openness to constructive criticism helps evaluate and reflect not only on your peers’ lessons but also on your own which is a key skill if you want to be a reflective practitioner. 

CELTA is intense and it is easy to focus on things you don’t yet know or do well.  I recommend that instead, you focus on small wins, the learning process and the inevitable progress you will make over the four weeks.  At the end of week four, you will be on a clear path to becoming a great teacher.  And, even if you do not start the course with a growth mindset, you will most certainly leave with one!

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